Volunteering is Vital for your Teens’ Self Esteem

Volunteering is Vital but There’s a Key Piece You Might be Missing

As a psychologist specializing with children and teens, I often hear the groans from high schoolers as they scramble to complete their required volunteer hours for graduation. Unfortunately, this community service expectation seems to be viewed as a bothersome task for most teens rather than the opportunity it could be.

The Dilemma

Most teens are more comfortable making little gestures such as helping a friend through a tough time or baking muffins and sharing with their neighbors. Although these are very kind gestures and are absolutely encouraged, they might still be missing the mark a bit. In order to reap the full social and personal benefits of altruistic behaviors there’s one key factor that should be included. Based on a recent article in the Journal of Research of Adolescence, not all helping behaviors are the same. The researchers found that adolescents who assisted strangers reported higher self-esteem one year later. Surprisingly, teens who helped friends and family members did not report the same emotional change. By taking advantage of a volunteer opportunity with in the community, teens are helping others that they do not know, rather than their own friends and family. Helping a stranger requires someone to step outside of their comfort zone. Going to a new environment and gaining perspective on others’ life experiences helps broaden a teens’ view of themselves in relation to others. Teens often tend to rely on their own perspective and can lose focus on larger issues, so volunteering is vital for developing compassionate, socially conscious young adults.

The Solution

Let’s combat the constant media bombardment of social comparison and perfectionism with something much more meaningful. To help a stranger that we don’t have a connection to, that has no way of paying us back in the future is truly an act that is selfless. The more teens “act” like a good person who is kind and generous, the more they will feel as though they are kind and good thus improving their self esteem. It’s a beautiful cycle of where if they view themselves as kind, then they are more likely to act in compassionate ways because it fits how they see themselves. Volunteering and collaborating others within the community is also a great way to connect socially and feel purposeful. This sense of connection can help combat feelings of isolation and low mood. Often the teenage years are a time of self-discovery, exploration and high emotions. So encourage teens to discover the kind, altruistic version of themselves.

8 wonderful volunteer opportunities to foster positive self-esteem: 

1) Volunteer at a Food Pantry or Shelter during non-peak Holiday times. 2) Connect with the YMCA/Boys and Girls Club to offer assistance or mentorship to youth 3) Promote change through donating time with Political Campaigns 4) Encourage a love for books and assisting patrons at Local Libraries 5) Connect with elderly in Retirement Homes who need a friend 6) Learn about nature and pick up litter in your Local Park 7) Help a teacher or tutor a student at a Local School 8) Volunteer at a Hospital   

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